There is a trip that is so special and emotional it makes my fishing life complete and it’s a trip I look forward to each year more than any trip I’ve ever taken. The destination, Yakutat, Alaska.
Yakutat is also home to some of the best halibut fishing this planet has to offer. I have yet to fish another destination which would even come close to not only the amount of halibut, but the average size.
I’ve been extremely fortunate when it comes to fishing opportunities and have been able to travel all along the west coast, Canada and Alaska fishing many waters that are, or should be, on everyone’s bucket list.
As a kid and then teenager, I had always dreamed of fishing the world-famous Kenia River for monster king salmon. This was in the ‘70s and ‘80s when the river was producing 50-pound-plus salmon on a regular basis. The dream was fulfilled when I was finally able to convince my Dad to take a trip in 1999. This remains the most memorable trip of my lifetime as we landed our four kings which included my Dad’s 70-pound beast. What makes it so special is shortly after the trip my Dad was diagnosed with bone cancer and passed away six months later. I’m fortunate to be able to have such a memorable trip before he was gone. The memory is something that can never be taken away. Other trips that are in the top five in no particular order:
2) Fishing the Nushagak River, where myself and my two partners set a camp record 121 kings to the boat in a single 8- hour day.
3) Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), where I had multiple trips catch-ing limits of kings, coho, lings, seabass and halibut each day non-guided around an island that took less than an hour to circle
4) An unnamed river in Terrace BC, which we called the “Moose River” or “Forty Creek (in reference to our Whiskey of choice” where the only humans other than ourselves were the natives who wel-comed us and protected us from the likes of Sasquatch and the “Green eyed Lady”. We were also blessed with 25 plus wild steelhead days.
5) Kyuquot Sound where we had such successful days we were able to help the locals by catching Chinook for them. The highlight was to meet the Tribal Chief as she presented us with her own smoked salmon as a “thank you” for helping their people. But, besides all of these trips, any one of which could be considered a trip of a lifetime, there is a trip that is so special and emotional it makes my fishing life complete and it’s a trip I look forward to each year more than any trip I’ve ever taken. The destination, Yakutat, Alaska.
Yakutat is home to the Situk River, a legend amongst bucket list seekers. Unbelievable steelhead, coho, sockeye, pink salmon and Dolly Varden. It also has some huge kings but usually is not open for targeting these monsters. The river itself is as wild as wild can be. Grizzly’s, moose, bald eagles and other wildlife show their presence which to me is rewarding in itself.
Yakutat is also home to some of the best halibut fishing this planet has to offer. I have yet to fish another destination which would even come close to not only the amount of halibut, but the average size. In the last several years our average size “keeper” has been over 70 pounds with several barn doors over 100 pounds each and every trip.
After returning to the dock from an amazing day of fishing, the adventure is not over.
Whether you’re seeking fishing on the Situk, or landing that 100-pound plus hali out in the salt, NOTHING compares to the satisfaction of fishing with the group I am fortunate to be able to fish with every year, as they are all combat wounded soldiers that have put their lives on the line so we are able to experience any kind of fishing trip in the free world.
A few years back we were fishing with Capt. Bill McCutcheon of Bottom to Top Charters. We hit it off immediately and he had mentioned about setting up a program to bring up some of our heroes to fish with him, in some of the most sought after fish-ing waters in the world. A veteran himself, Capt. Bill was passionate about giving back to some of the bravest American’s who sacrificed so much so we can do what we love to do, fish. Asked if myself and my fishing partner Ron Camp were in, there was no hesitation, of course we’re in, whatever we can do. So starting in 2018, we began what has been the most satisfying and memorable trip one could ever imagine. Each year since then we bring up a group of four combat wounded veteran’s and provide them with the greatest fishing trip one could ever imagine.
Each year we gather donations to give to the vets and the crew, ranging from fishing gear, clothing and multiple types of swag as a small token to let them know how much we appreciate all they have sacrificed to keep us free. Some of the companies who have helped us out are, Bottom to Top Charters and Leonard’s Land-ing, both in Yakutat, G. Loomis, Shimano, Pautzke, Pro Cure, Salmon Trout Steelheader magazine, Gamakatsu, Silver Horde, Gibbs Tackle, G12 Communications and Pitbull tackle. If you’d like to donate in 2022 please send an email to tbfishin@comcast. net as we welcome any and all donations.
During that initial trip in 2018, when the first halibut was brought aboard, one of the vets, Chris, reached down and put his hand on the halibut. Then, placed his hand on the flag they had brought to honor all the men and women who had made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Nothing needed to be said. There was a moment of silence and not a dry eye onboard. A memory for which will forever be ingrained into our memories and gives me the drive to continue this worthwhile program year after year.
The main highlight of the trip is when anyone lands a fish over 100 pounds. It’s tradition that any halibut landed that is truly over 100 pounds requires the angler to bite the head off a herring.
In 2021 we brought up a fresh group of soldiers, who just like the previous years, turned out to be an incredible selection of individuals who I have the utmost admiration for. The trips normally start out with inconsequential conversation and then after beginning to gain trust with our brothers, life changing conversation begins to ensue. One can only imagine what was included in the conversations, but honoring the trust of my new brothers the details cannot be shared.
On the fishing front however, I can tell you that this is a trip that none of us will ever forget.
Capt. Bill is a vet himself and makes sure all these heroes, like all of his customers, are treated to the finest trip available. Of course it always starts out with a little razzing and provoking those that haven’t fished on the ocean to get in their mind set that they will get sea sick. Funny thing is, the water is generally no rougher than the Puget Sound and in since 2018 only one of the soldiers got sick. After having his guts blown out by shrapnel, this however was nothing and he continued to fish with the rest of us and laughed at the idea of puking.
We start out on anchor in usually 100 to 150 feet of water and let the halibut come to us. Capt. Bill is a master of find-ing the pinnacles and shelves which the fish rely on for their food source. Whole herring on a dropper, usually 4 to 5 cranks above bottom is the norm. We also have at least one, if not two, swim baits as an attractant to lure the fish in. As we wait in anticipation the stories start to unfold. The trip is a four-day laugh fest which would be worth it even if no fish were hooked. But, being we were in Yakutat fishing with Capt. Bill, the fish were a plenty and there is no other Capt. Or guide I’d trust to get us on the fish. Capt. Bill and his wife Tammie have become family. They are the finest people you will ever meet and so generous in making sure we take care of our soldiers who have fought for all of us.
After the fish find us it’s usually continuous fish on with rod’s going off. We all take turns making sure everyone has several battles throughout the day and the only questions are which to keep and which to release. The highlight of each trip is the first time the shotgun comes out to put an end to the battle of a halibut too big to bring over the gunnel live. Usually these are 75-pound plus halibut that are too dangerous to bring onboard without stunning them as many a fishermen have had their legs broken and worse with the amazing power these fish possess.
After returning to the dock from an amazing day of fishing, the adventure is not over. We have several opportunities which we are more than looking forward to show-ing our new brothers. Fishing the Situk river is always a highlight. Going to one of the main “holes” on the river, the Nine Mile Bridge, we can be fishing for sockeye, pinks and coho with plenty of daylight left depending on what time of year it is. We’ve also previously scheduled a guide which Capt. Bill arranged, to travel the whole 14-mile drift which due to time, we usually end up at the take out around 2 a.m. Ever seen Griz-zly eyes staring at you as you float by? If you’re up to it, can be some of the best fishing you’ve ever experienced. We make sure that each trip we also treat our new comrades to a genuine Alaska style fish fry. This past year, the manager of the seafood processing plant, “Moses,” joined us and contributed 10 pounds of freshly caught prawns to our feast. Along with fresh halibut and a rare “blue” ling, we made sure this was the most incredible seafood feast ever had by all of us. There was nothing like it! Of course we had a nice selection of Whiskey for after dinner conversation. The main highlight of the trip is when anyone lands a fish over 100 pounds. It’s tradition that any halibut landed that is truly over 100 pounds requires the angler to bite the head off a herring. You’ve never seen so many of these guys that don’t want to reel up a halibut that starts out appear-ing that it’s a big fish! Giving that these are our American soldiers, we yet to see any of them not bite the head off. Some have puked, which I did, but they all follow through. Whether it be fishing from the salt or the Situk, fishing with each group of guys each year keeps me admiring what these true heroes have sacrificed to give us all freedom. To be able to share fishing knowledge with them, to eat and drink with them, is a true honor. The comradery between the soldiers is amazing. I’m proud to say that by the end of the trip I feel I truly am one of their brothers and would absolutely trust
any of them with my life.